Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts


Interior Design

First Advisor

Kristin Carleton

Second Advisor

Camden Whitehead



Sound of Systems- Impact of Music Therapy on Adolescents with Autism

“Music – The child of number and sound”.” --Iannis Xenakis


Music, a language that crosses cultures and can compel an individual to transcend time and space. It is an expression of the highest order and a gateway to connect to our divine source, it precedes all biases. Music therapy has been utilized in the Islamic world since the 8th century for its healing and therapeutic effects on the human soul, spirit, and body.

As of 2020, 1 in every 54 children is diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) irrespective of race, economic, and socio-cultural variables, although it is four times more prevalent in males than females. (CDC 2020). An investigation of the relationship between music and architecture will enable a better response by understanding the requirements of children with ASD.


Individuals diagnosed with autism display communication impairment, repetitive patterns of behavior, and taxing social interactions that inhibit their ability to feel at ease with their environment. Through a sympathetic understanding of the gifts and vulnerabilities of these children, an inventive environment can optimize their quality of life. Despite its overwhelming prevalence, autism is largely ignored in the building codes in the United States and the Global Program on Disability mandated by the United Nations (Mostafa 2008). Most existing studies lean towards communication impairment; however, there is insufficient information on how musical experiences aid social, and emotional outcomes in adolescents with ASD.


Integrating architecture and music therapy can produce a multisystem influence on children with ASD. Music-based therapies account for 12% of all autism interventions and 45% of all alternative treatment strategies used within school settings (Simpson et al. 2005; Hess et al. 2008). Six different case studies are examined that correlate music and the built environment. Three studies by Gaines, Mostafa, and Bruscia argue that musical training and a carefully built environment as a clinical tool have a positive impact on autism. Three additional studies by Leopold, Tayebi, and Mohamed examine mathematics and geometry as the unifying principle between music and architecture to create sensory integrated spaces. In addition, site visits, an interview with the technical coordinator of an autism center, and personal interactions with the father of an autistic child will be conducted.


Based on preliminary research, children with ASD have enhanced pitch perception and can detect pitch changes in melodies more easily than a normally developing child. Appropriately nurturing this quality with musical therapy enables children with ASD to interact socially in a less intimidating environment. Through music-based activities such as auditory-motor mapping technique, rhythmic training, and improvisational music therapy, cognitive processes can be gradually enhanced.

An investigation of a solution through the form of the building’s interior to establish a relationship between the structure of music and the structure of the interior. Integrating these two disciplines in a synergistic approach and drawing parallels between the two allows for the manipulation of form and space in a systematic approach that governs the two fields. A highly sensitive response to this predicament can be resolved by altering the interior environment through acoustics, sensory zoning, and compartmentalized spatial sequencing (Mostafa. 2008).


This research is to support the exploration of a 10,000-square-foot music therapy center for children with ASD where individual and group classes take place. It is tailored to full-time enrollment as well as part-time use on weekends and summers. It is in close vicinity to the Kennedy Center, a performing arts theatre. A conscious and sensitively built edifice at the border between Washington, D.C, and Northern Virginia serves as a convenient location for folks commuting to work.


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